Triston Hopkins and his mother, Pam Spencer, had a special bond. The eldest of Spencer’s three sons, Hopkins was protective of his mother and the duo shared the same caring spirit and warm smile that endeared them to others.
Their relationship made the news of their deaths -- in a Wednesday murder-suicide in Acadia Parish -- all the more incomprehensible, close family friend Bridget Doucet said.
The Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office responded to reports of a shooting around 11 a.m. Wednesday on McCain Road near Goodrich Road. Deputies determined Spencer, 47, was driving when Hopkins, 24, fatally shot her, then himself. The vehicle came to rest in a ditch on McCain Road, a release from Acadia Sheriff K.P. Gibson said. Loved ones publicly identified Spencer and Hopkins as the victims.
Doucet said she and family members are struggling to process the reality of the news. More than questions, they’ve been filled with an overwhelming sadness, she said.
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Spencer and her sons were grappling with the February death of the boys’ father and Spencer’s partner, James Hopkins, following sudden heart complications. There were no signs Hopkins’ feelings went beyond expected grief, Doucet said, but a deeper mental health struggle over his father’s passing is the only thing loved ones can think of that may have spurred his actions.
“We feel like this is all we’re ever going to know. Whatever else happened inside that vehicle left when they left,” she said.
“We’ve just experienced the loss of two amazing people. Our loss is exponential right now and that’s all we can focus on — that it’s our loss times two.”
Doucet and Spencer were more sisters than friends, bonded over nearly 25 years of friendship that began with a local advertisement. Doucet had just moved to Iota as a single mother of three after leaving an abusive relationship, and Spencer and her mother, Andrea Spencer, responded to her call for a babysitter.
Their lives were deeply intertwined from then on; Doucet and her husband served as godparents to Spencer’s boys, and Spencer, a caregiver, watched over Doucet’s mother and sister until their deaths. “Family oriented” is a mild term to describe Spencer’s devotion to her family. Outside of work, they were her whole focus, Doucet said.
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“Their victories were our victories. Anytime they excelled at anything, whether it be in football or things at school, it was just a victory for everybody,” she said.
The 47-year-old was a “ray of sunshine” with a deep well of patience, strength and perseverance who brought a calming, warm energy into every room she walked into, Doucet said. Spencer was the woman you could turn to when things got tough — she’d get things done, then offer a joke to bring a moment of levity and reprieve.
“She could make any situation bearable. I lost my youngest son a year ago and she’s just the reason we got through it,” Doucet said.
Spencer’s eldest son took after her. The 6’5”, broad shouldered 2016 Iota High School graduate was a “gentle giant” with a compassionate heart, contagious smile and friendliness that drew others to him. He was sociable and well liked — if you weren’t his friend, you were after you met him, Doucet said.
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Derek Leger, former offensive line coordinator for the Louisiana Bayou Hurricanes, said he first met Hopkins in 2019 when he recruited him to play with the Acadiana Ravens, a semi-pro football team connected with the local developmental football scene. Hopkins’ football prowess was impressive; he had the size, the skills and the un-coachable talent and understanding of the game that makes a player stand out, he said.
While his football game was laudable, it was his personality that made him shine. Hopkins was a soft spoken, intelligent man who brought positivity and encouragement to the team, Leger said. He was broadly liked and respected among his teammates and coaches. He had a sharp attention to detail and was a strong communicator.
“If someone had something they wanted to do, Triston was the type of guy to tell them they could do it. He believed in other people...We get caught in the rat race where we’re so worried about our own selves, but Triston was the type of person that believed in others. You don’t come across that very often, because it was genuine,” Leger said.
Hopkins bounced between area teams over the years, but after grappling on-and-off with a hand and wrist injury and some leg irritations, he was eyeing a transition into coaching and recruiting, Leger said. Hopkins was in line to work with Leger as an offensive line coach and recruiter for a new team, the Delphina Prep Dolphins, but plans for the team were scrapped over funding concerns, he said.
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News of Hopkins’ death came as a shock. Teams try to rally around players experiencing depression and mental health difficulties, but Hopkins never let on that he may have been struggling underneath his sunny exterior, the former coach said.
“It’s extremely unfortunate because he was so young and he had so much in front of him. He had so many people in his corner. It stings because so many of us would have been ready, day or night, to be out there to help him out,” Leger said.
Doucet said family members and loved ones are rallying together, especially around Spencer’s surviving sons, 21-year-old Kelvin and 13-year-old Kye. They’re having open, frank discussions about their feelings and grieving together. Leger said the local football community is doing the same; as news of Hopkins’ death spread, active and retired players and coaches reached out to each other to offer emotional support and encourage speaking up about mental health challenges.
“We all have some type of struggle...I think at this time people don’t want to talk about stuff as much because we all have so much going on and nobody wants to burden anyone else with their problems, but we’ll never know there’s a problem if you don’t talk about it,” Doucet said.